Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Compensation for Palestinian refugees: a gaming-influenced workshop


Last month I coorganized a workshop in the UK on Palestinian refugee compensation with Chatham House as part of their long-standing “Minster Lovell” meetings on the refugee issue. Although the workshop wasn’t a game or simulation, we did use some gaming and simulation techniques to drive the discussions, including rival teams, scoring, and assigned tasks. Mick Dumper of the University of Exeter—who is both a refugee expert and a frequent user of simulations—has offered some thoughts below on how it all went.


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Recently I took part in a gaming-based workshop which was not exactly a lot of “fun”.  It was designed to explore the options available in constructing a compensation package for Palestinian refugees, in the event of some success resulting from the US Secretary of State’s current efforts in the Middle East peace process. While the workshop comprised some gaming elements (eg. competing teams and scoring) it was, ultimately, pretty hard work!  Nonetheless, as an exercise to extract good ideas, to fly kites, to test-case controversial initiatives, it worked, and provided much food for thought and action.

Palestinian_refugeesThe exercise was sponsored by Chatham House and the UK Foreign Office and run by Rex Brynen with the assistance of Roula el-Rifai from International Development Research Center (Ottawa), former Canadian diplomat Mike Molloy, Norbert Wuhler (formerly of the International Organisation for Migration) and Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House.  Approximately 20 participants were divided into 3 teams who were all set the same task of designing a delivery framework for compensation following a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis.  We were given a day and a half, and most of the time was spent in breakout rooms with 3 opportunities to meet in plenary: an introductory session at the beginning and a second session, about one-third of the way through, in which our preliminary findings were aired and shared.  In the final session the three teams presented their reports as powerpoints which the rest of the participants were asked to score. Overall, the task was quite daunting as the detail required was very demanding.

One of the key features of the workshop was that all the participants were very knowledgeable either on the peace process, or had specific expertise on the Palestinian refugee issue or of compensation mechanisms.  Many had acted as advisors to some of the actors in previous rounds of negotiations or had experience in designing and implementing compensation packages in other post-conflict situations. In addition, considerable thought had gone into the preparation of the powerpoints the teams were to present.  We were all given templates with sections, detailed prompts and examples of issues.  These ranged from the delineation of which elements of the package were to be included in an agreement and which were to dealt with by the agency established, eligibility issues, categories of claims, varieties of valuations and payment schemes etc.  On both accounts, this meant that the teams were able to hit the ground running and despite the ambitious objectives of the organisers, they were able to cover between half and two-thirds of the issues outlined.

datafiles_cache_tempimgs_2010_1_images_news_2010_04_22_palestine-key_300_0The teams were not randomly selected, but I was not able to detect the underlying logic of any social engineering, apart from the fact that Palestinian and Israeli participants were spread fairly equally.  Some teams clearly worked better as a group than others and it was interesting to see how disagreements within the teams as well between them did not necessarily follow national or political affiliations. The timing was very tight and it did mean that for some teams, disagreements were not resolved and therefore the differing positions were included in the final presentation.  In addition, it also meant that not all the sections were covered in the same way by the teams.  This meant that the scoring in the final session did not really work as it was difficult to give marks to the teams in the same way.

The team format of the workshop did provide opportunities to explore the implications of particular scenarios through to the end which was very revealing.  One of the most important outcomes of the workshop was the realisation that placing a monetary value on refugee hood and upon what that calculation was to be based was politically explosive and hugely divisive. For example, one scenario was to divide the sum likely to be raised from the donor community and from Israel by the number of refugees (in itself subject to many different estimates). This produced a pitiful sum deemed by some as offensive (“less than you would receive if your cat was run over by a car”) and would be totally unacceptable. Another scenario was to take a compensation for refugee hood sum that might be acceptable to the vast majority of refugees and then multiply this by the number of refugees. This led to astronomical totals which would be left unmet by the donor community and Israel.

Clearly finance alone was not going to solve this problem and the broader context of reparation, of which compensation is just one part but also includes restitution, restorative justice and apology, requires addressing and may offer more fruitful ways of pulling an agreement together. The team format was perhaps not essential in getting to this important stage, but it certainly made it more interesting, more collegial and I am sure helped motivate a talented group of experts who were all engaged in this on a pro-bono basis and may not otherwise have committed themselves to the hard work involved.

Mick Dumper 
University of Exeter 

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